I began my taste test with a date at the Kingfish Cafe. I ordered the buttermilk fried chicken, and instantly relearned a life truth: Fried chicken is a shitty date food. You eat with your hands. For the first few bites, your teeth tear into the plump chunks of meat while your lips purse to keep the grease from dripping on your cheeks and chin. As the meat becomes sparser, your tongue darts out and traces the bone, memorizing its contours and foraging for more pockets of juicy flesh, until all have been exhausted. Soon your napkin is curled fetally in your lap and you must suck the grease from your hands, finger by finger—loudly.

After devouring two breasts and a thigh at the Kingfish, I hit Ezell's Famous Chicken for a three-piece nightcap. The chicken at Ezell's was more greasy than at the Kingfish, and the skin was more spicy and flaky. It also cost only $7, compared to the Kingfish's $14. However, I could barely make it through one spicy thigh without moaning and clutching at my stomach. The rest was saved for breakfast.

Two nights later I visited the Southern Kitchen in Tacoma, another local restaurant famous for its excellent southern cooking. The Southern Kitchen's moderately priced fried chicken beat out both the Kingfish and Ezell's with thick skin and juicier meat. It took me an hour to ensure I'd sucked the bone clean. I had found a new favorite and I went home satisfied. Fried chicken's allure is in being decadent, messy, and grotesquely sensual. If it were healthy or involved silverware, its charm would be lost. recommended